SUPERB GUN FIGHT SCENE AT WESTERN FRONTIER
22 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches sheet, 37 ½ x 45 inches framed. Hand-colored lithograph. Plate legend on bottom margin bearing title (toning consistent with age).
This superb hand-colored lithograph of Louis Maurer’s “The Last Shot” opens in medias res with a captivating scene of a life-or-death struggle between a frontiersman and a Native American. The frontiersman is seen sitting on the ground beside a horse with his arm outstretched in the act of firing a shot at the Native American approaching with a tomahawk. An overall sense of violence, tension, and suspense permeates the scene, as can be gleaned from the expressions and body language of both the human figures and their accompanying horses. In the background, a riderless horse and another horseman can be seen riding off through the misty landscape in the distance.
The imagined action here is imbued with all the immediacy and urgency of a real event due to the artist’s meticulous rendering of every detail, from the billowing smoke from the gun, to the blades of grass blowing in the wind, to the expressions of terror on the faces of the two men and the visibly tense musculatures of their accompanying horses. The vivid highlights of red, blue, and yellow that pop out against the otherwise green and brown setting also serve to enhance the striking intensity of the moment. Furthermore, the impressive use of perspective conveys powerfully the vastness of the prairie and the endlessness of the sky.
This lithograph, drawn from an oil painting by the notable genre painter Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, was one of a number of Western scenes published by Currier & Ives in the mid to late nineteenth century, a period of Westward expansion when the American public had a great appetite for representations of Western adventure, particularly the challenges faced by trailblazing pioneers as they forged their way through vast, unknown terrains. The present composition features one of the most exciting subjects at the time--potentially dangerous encounters with Native Americans, who often resisted violently against the encroachment on their lands. The scene here presents a loose narrative of that struggle which so defined the Westward experience that loomed large in the 19th-century American imagination.
The publishing firm of Currier & Ives created the most popular and highly regarded lithographs of quintessentially American scenes ever produced. The quality, vast scope and engagingly populist style of their works have made their names synonymous with an idealistic vision of 19th-century American promise and optimism. Nathaniel Currier began his lithographic career as an apprentice in 1828. By the mid-1830's he had established his own firm on Spruce Street in New York City. In 1857 James Ives became a partner in the flourishing business, which went on to produce over 7,000 lithographs by 1907.
Louis Maurer (1832-1932) was a German-American lithographer and the last surviving artist known to have worked for the firm Currier & Ives. Toward the end of his life, Maurer gave extensive interviews about the firm to art collector Harry T. Peters for the latter’s book Currier & Ives, Printmakers to the American People.
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